Torture USA

torture
From August 2014: A cartoon that perfectly captured the moment

W.J. Astore

Five years ago, President Obama infamously said, “We tortured some folks.”  And no one was held accountable; indeed, as Tom Tomorrow put it in a cartoon from that time, “The only government official who went to jail for it [John Kiriakou] was the whistleblower who exposed it.”  In the cartoon, Tom Tomorrow has Obama say that, “Still, we must accept responsibility!  Which is to say. we must briefly acknowledge the unpleasantness in the upcoming torture report, and then quickly move on.”

And that’s exactly what America did: quickly move on, without consequences (except for Kiriakou).  And then candidates like Donald Trump emerged, boasting of how much he’d increase the use of torture.  And thus Trump as president could pick Gina Haspel, implicated in the torture regime, as the new head of the CIA.  Well done, President Obama.

Recently, one of my readers alerted me to concerted efforts to “unredact” the redacted CIA report released in December 2014, based on open source research and logical deduction by a number of British researchers, concerning extraordinary rendition and black sites.  Check out this link https://twitter.com/renditionprjct for further details; the full report (403 pages) can be downloaded as a pdf file at this link:

https://www.therenditionproject.org.uk/documents/RDI/190710-TRP-TBIJ-CIA-Torture-Unredacted-Full.pdf.

Here’s the first paragraph of the report, and an excerpt from the executive summary:

CIA Torture Unredacted presents the findings from a four-year joint investigation by The Rendition Project and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism into the use of rendition, secret detention and torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its partners in the ‘War on Terror’. We have focused our efforts on understanding the evolution, scope and human impact of the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) programme, which operated between 2001 and 2009. During this time, the CIA established a global network of secret prisons (so-called ‘black sites’) for the purposes of detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects – in secret, indefinitely, and under the most extreme conditions. As a result, scores of men were captured, at locations around the world, and disappeared into the programme for weeks, months or years on end, whereupon they were subjected to sustained torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

This report, and The Rendition Project’s website (www.therenditionproject.org.uk), provide, without doubt, the most detailed public account to date of CIA torture.

We are publishing here:

→ A detailed profile of the prisoners held within the torture programme, including
their nationalities; capture locations and dates; detention locations, dates and
treatment; and fate and whereabouts afterwards;
→ The identity of those prisoners held in the black sites in Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Morocco, and Guantánamo Bay;
→ A detailed reconstruction of the shifting geography of secret detention operations in Afghanistan;
→ A granular account of the complex network of companies which provided aircraft to the CIA for rendition operations;
→ Extensive documentary evidence relating to over 60 rendition circuits by these aircraft, which involved over 120 individual renditions;
→ A detailed overview of complicity by a number of key states, including the United Kingdom and those which hosted the black sites.

CIA Torture Unredacted stands as a comprehensive public account of one of the most disturbing elements of the ‘War on Terror’: a global programme of systematic disappearance and torture, carried out by the world’s most powerful liberal democratic states. In the face of continued obstruction and denial by the governments involved, which refuse to allow for a full accounting of the crimes which took place, we hope that this report will stand as a central reference point for all those who still seek redress and reparations for the victims of CIA torture, as well as some measure of the truth for us all.

Euphemisms and the Banality of Evil

George Orwell
George Orwell

W.J. Astore

I teach a course on the Holocaust, so I’ve had ample opportunity to confront the use of euphemisms by the Nazis to cloak their murderous intent.  The most infamous euphemism was “the final solution to the Jewish question,” which of course refers to the mass murder–the extermination–of all Jews everywhere. But there were many other euphemisms, to include “evacuation” and “resettlement” for the shipment of Jews to death camps in Poland.

Such coded language was intended in part to deceive the Jews, but it was also an exercise in self-deception (or self-desensitization, perhaps).  The Nazis, in other words, deflected some of the horrors of their murderous activities by thinking of them in banal terms.  The banality of language helped to make possible the “banality of evil” exercised by Nazi functionaries like Adolf Eichmann.  He was just “removing” and “resettling” Jews, or so he may have preferred to think (when he thought at all).

Comparisons between Nazism and other systems are always difficult and often tendentious. Godwin’s Law suggests that Internet debates often degenerate to name-calling in which Nazi analogies, carelessly applied, are trotted out in an attempt to triumph over one’s opponent.  It’s a good law to keep in mind.

Yet it’s remarkable to me the proliferation of euphemisms in U.S. military and political discourse. “Enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture. “Extraordinary rendition” for kidnapping. “Collateral damage” for the death of innocents (often children) in combat operations. Guantanamo Bay as a “detention camp” for “detainees” rather than a prison (or concentration) camp for prisoners.  Even the “global war on terror” was rebranded in 2009 as “overseas contingency operation,” as if one can deny the deadly realities of war simply by changing the name.

George Orwell warned us about the political uses of language in his famous essay from 1946.  We ignore his warning at our peril.  Cloaking violent, even murderous actions in banal language may make a few functionaries sleep easier at night.  But they should make the rest of us profoundly uncomfortable.

Banal language facilitates and helps to actuate the banality of evil. As Vaclav Havel noted in his essay “A Word About Words” (1989), “The point is that all important events in the real world–whether admirable or monstrous–always have their prologue in the realm of words.”

The more we invoke euphemisms to cloak harsh realities, the more we ensure that harshness will endure; indeed, that it will grow harsher, more pernicious. Even worse: that it will become banal, even “normal.”

Torture is torture.  Kidnapping is kidnapping.  Dead infants are dead infants.  War is war.  And extermination is extermination.

Employing euphemisms is not just an exercise in banality of language; it’s often a betrayal of humanity.